Messy Play is one of those things that you could not even have fathomed before you become a parent.
We first heard about one at our local library when my daughter was only about six weeks old and still sleeping through most of the singing and play sessions I lugged her along to. But even then I thought to myself, “I can’t wait until she is old enough to go to that!”
The idea of Messy Play is that you do things with your kids that you would never dream of doing at home.
This can be because you don’t have the space or the resources. But the main reason you don’t do it at home is because it would take the rest of the week to clear up afterwards – and there would be bound to be stains and remains that never truly went away.
We’ve been to our share of Messy Plays in children’s centres and libraries now.
And the truth is, the majority of them have been a little disappointing. Well, for me, anyway.
That first time I heard tell of Messy Play, I envisioned an entire room taped with bin liners, floor to ceiling, with buckets of paint everywhere, slippy slides dripping with cooked spaghetti and paddling pools full of jelly, where children – also wearing bin liners in my filthy fantasy – sloshed and splashed and slid about and had to be hosed down afterwards.
The reality is pretty much the same set up as a regular play session, but with a bit of paint or play dough on a table (Come one, that’s just craft), a water table with some bubbles in and a few bath toys, and maybe a token tray of Rice Krispies with some spoons and cups.
The children still have fun of course, and just being able to paint some handprints and splash some water and not get it all over your living room is a lot to be grateful for.
But the staff hover uneasily over you with a broom and a roll of paper towel, and a pained look in their eyes that says, “I have to clean all this up after you’ve all gone home.” And it all just feels a bit half-hearted.
Then the amazing Andrea moved to our local children’s centre and it was like we had struck oil.
She filled paddling pools with cooked spaghetti and sandpits with flour and coloured water and actively encouraged the children to get in and roll around.
She added glitter and shaving foam to the water table and she covered another with cottonwool balls and paint.
Watching the children splashing about in the cottonwool goop she commented, “I really wanted to get them to throw it at the wall, but I don’t think the janitor would ever forgive me.”
I am sure this is some parents idea of a nightmare.
At bath time when we got home I found the folds of my daughter’s skirt were stuck together with a wodge of purple dough, and there was glitter in her nappy.
Last week it was particularly hot and we arrived at Messy Play to be told by Andrea, “There are beans outside.”
For a second a tray of dry beans popped into my head, but almost instantly I knew what she meant.
“Shall we just get naked?” I asked, as I rubbed suncream into my daughters arms.
A minute later she was wallowing gloriously in a bath of baked beans, wearing nothing but a sun hat and a nappy.
Nearby one of her little friends was rolling around in a pool of baby oil and blue paint.
As wholly inappropriate as it may be, I couldn’t help the tune of Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty coming into my head – the perfect soundtrack as I watched my daughter writhe around in baked beans, blue paint flecked across her face.
Andrea quickly added warm water to her rubber duck pool and put out piles of towels, helping to wrap up the oiled-up, blue babies before they slipped through their mother’s arms.
We always think carefully about what not to wear when we know we are going to Messy Play now. I just need to start packing my own change of clothes as well….
This post is dedicated to Andrea, the dirtiest person we know.